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Distinguishing between urgency and importance: The time management matrix

François Lévesque 1

François Lévesque

Directeur technique chez Witify

When running a business, it's easy to become overloaded with a variety of unrelated tasks. Keeping the focus on the main objectives becomes a real challenge.

You have a marketing plan with half-yearly objectives. You have a new management tool you'd like to implement to optimize your operations. A customer calls in a panic because the solution you offered him no longer works...

It's hard to know what you "have" to do every hour of the day. Which tasks should be prioritized? To lighten the mental load and focus on execution rather than planning, the Time Management Matrix enables you to effectively prioritize the most important tasks.

The 4 quadrants of the matrix

Inspired by Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the matrix has 4 distinct quadrants. Each task, planned or unplanned, must be placed in one of these quadrants.

quadrants of the time management matrix
The 4 quadrants of the time management matrix. Top right are the highest-priority tasks. Lower left are the lowest-priority tasks.

In order of priority, here are the 4 quadrants and their definitions.

Quadrant 4: Task neither important nor urgent

Target occupation of your time: 1%.

This is a task that is neither important nor urgent. It could be a request from an employee, a comment from a customer, a bug that has no impact on operations, etc. In short, a task that makes no difference to your business. In short, a task that won't make much difference to your business. You can make a note to keep track. However, if you don't have enough of the 24 hours in a day, it's the kind of task you eliminate - on to the next!

Quadrant 3: Urgent task, but not important

Target occupation of your time: 15%.

This is a task that's urgent, but not important. It could be an employee who can't log on to your intranet, a minor blockage in the production line, a customer call, a supplier e-mail, and so on. These are tasks requiring immediate attention, but which can easily be delegated. These are time-wasting tasks, usually caused by poor planning.

As far as possible, it is essential to minimize these tasks. Whenever a new task in this quadrant appears, it should be added to the document to keep track of it. This way, when you review your processes and work standards, you'll have a list of inefficiencies to target. By frequently fine-tuning your processes, you'll be able to minimize the place of this quadrant in your daily routine.

Quadrant 2: Important but not urgent tasks

Target occupancy of your time: 65-85%.

An important but non-urgent task usually plays a key role in your company's development, but requires sustained effort over the long term. It might, for example, involve launching a new marketing strategy, setting up a new intranet or hiring a new sales manager. These initiatives, while not urgent, are crucial to your company's sustained growth.

If you're an executive or entrepreneur, the vast majority of your time should be devoted to this quadrant. These are the tasks that have the greatest long-term impact on your organization's growth. However, they're also the easiest to ignore or delay if you're constantly putting out fires.

Ship during a storm with waves
Learning to navigate the rough waters helps you stay on course towards your long-term goals.

If your company's operations and processes are inadequate, it's a sign that major restructuring is needed. Finding, compiling and resolving inefficiencies should be your priority. This will give you more hours per week to work on long-range, high-impact projects.

Quadrant 1: Important and urgent task

Target occupation of your time: 20-25%.

This quadrant contains tasks that require your immediate attention. This is a top-priority task, such as the imminent deadline for an important project, personal emergencies, the preparation of a not-to-be-missed service offer, applying for a grant before the deadline, dealing with late deliveries, an unexpected external audit, and so on.

As a manager, these are the tasks where you can bring the most value in an emergency situation.

In practice

The exercise can be done on paper, but often having the mental image allows you to make decisions on the fly. The important thing, especially when many unforeseen events occur simultaneously, is to ask yourself the question: in which quadrant is this task?

Over time, the answer will come naturally. Then you can stay true to your strategy and objectives.

François Lévesque 1

François Lévesque

Directeur technique chez Witify

François Lévesque est cofondateur et directeur technique chez Witify. Spécialisé dans la gestion et le développement de projets logiciels et web complexes, il se consacre depuis 8 ans sur le développement de ERP, Intranets et CRM sur-mesure. Au fil de son parcours, il a développé une expertise approfondie en génie logiciel, se traduisant par une sensibilité particulière à la traduction des objectifs d'affaires en requis techniques précis. Ayant une vaste expertise en analyse et visualisation de données, François a également mené avec succès de nombreux projets de données avec des institutions gouvernementales.

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